Blair moves kick racism into touch

Racial abuse targeted in a grim week for football that has seen a fan die and allegations of boardroom narcotics abuse
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The Independent Online
THE Prime Minister yesterday gave his backing to a report which declares there should be "zero tolerance" of racism in football and recommends a series of sweeping measures to combat it.

Signalling its intention of acting on the proposals, the Government immediately announced changes in the law to enable criminal charges to be brought against individual spectators who chant racial abuse.

At the presentation of the first report by the Government's Football Task Force yesterday, Sports Minister Tony Banks revealed that current legislation in the Football Offences Act would be amended at the "earliest possible opportunity" to accommodate the new measure. The Task Force, set up by the new Government in July l997 under the chairmanship of broadcaster and former minister David Mellor, has come up with 40 different sets of ideas for tackling racism and attracting more blacks and Asians to become involved in the game.

The inquiry found that racism was still deeply entrenched in English football. Some of the worst examples of this were at the bottom and top ends of the sport. Racist abuse was endemic in many local amateur games, and at the same time there were no black or Asian representation on the Football Association council. There was also a paucity of people from the ethnic minorities in administrative positions.

Although Britain's non-white population is 7.3 per cent, they make up just one per cent of Premier League crowds, says the report. And at a time when black footballers are succeeding at the highest level, the number of black spectators is decreasing. Black and Asian supporters are put off by prospects of insults and intimidation.

The report says that in amateur football, councils should ban clubs with a record of racist behaviour from playing fields, and at a professional level stewards at matches should be trained to deal with racist incidents as part of a new mandatory National Vocational Qualification. The Task Force also recommends anti-racist pledges should be put in the contracts of players and managers, with breaches leading to heavy fines or even dismissals. And referees should be given new guidance that racist abuse on the field is a red-card offence.

Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, said it welcomed the campaign but he added that there will have to be fundamental changes in the approach to settling disputes between players with potential problems: "In the past things could have been settled by people meeting and apologising for what they had done or said to the wronged party. "But that will be difficult when the accusation is one of racist behaviour; players wouldn't want to admit they had said something of a racial nature if they are then going to be branded a racist."

Mr Mellor maintained there " must be zero tolerance to racism. Our main concern is to propose practical measures to stamp out racism wherever it occurs, not just on the pitch or terraces, but boardrooms and boot- rooms".

Mr Blair welcomed the "timely report coming just before the World Cup". He added: " For too long racism has scarred football. The proposals will be studied carefully. They could make a real difference in tackling the problem ... I am proud of the multi-cultural society we live in, proud to lead a government that believes nobody should be shut out of society's mainstream."

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